- Becoming relevant on the global stage by producing better material
By: Amna Khan
“Moments like this require someone who will act, do the unpleasant thing, the necessary thing” I can’t help but agree with Frank Underwood’s opening monologue in House Of Cards. The first Netflix original to grace our laptop screens, prior to which Netflix had invested in buying content from networks and filming studios at nominal fees to attract subscribers to their streaming platform. Then they did the ‘unpleasant thing’ and ‘acted’ instinctively for what was unavoidable even ‘necessary’ to survive in the media climate of 2013. They took a gamble – a huge risk, in the words of Ted Sarandos, “the stakes were high, in terms of the size of the bet” and as we can see it really paid off. Since then there’s been a drastic increase in the amount of money streaming services such as HBO, HULU, Amazon and Apple TV spend on individual content, proving ‘originality’ is what works. Our media avenues should’ve gotten the memo of ‘going global’ early on when Tyrion Lannister’s doppelganger Rozi Khan attracted hordes of tourists to his restaurant in Rawalpindi. Honestly at this point being tone deaf to your audience seems as Pakistani a trait as being a biryani enthusiast.
It’s apparent, all media entities think about is likability. Also perhaps not getting gunned down by the clergy but mostly it’s about how they can get a person of null & nil education to watch ‘this’. ‘This’ does not constitute any informative programming, No! Just in case that might make society a more functional place to live in by, perhaps, making men less sexist and women less judgmental; we can’t have that now, can we? Then come the neglected audiences those who are colonized by chance not choice. Channels figure that these people already have internet access and the local media isn’t really willing to win over any educated minds. It’s a useless endeavor because their competition is foreign programming, so they don’t even try.
If only they would’ve been this averse to innovation when mobile phones were on the line, we’d still be using fax machines – laziness aside it would’ve been because people are used to it, so why change when the masses have already adopted? This is the exact explanation anyone willing to invest in intelligent programming gets -’people won’t buy it, so why even try? Besides we’ve always done it this way.’
Linear narratives and editing styles are also a thing of the past. Millennials need movies that mimic their social media habits – fast paced, unpredictable and ones’ with uncertain endings (not everyone needs to be in love, or married, or terrible if they’re sexually active)
Thirst for tasteful content sways no one, there’s only greed for mindless profiteering here; unrelatable dialogue coupled with superficial story-telling lacking any insight to an educated human mind whatsoever. Local channels are strictly peddling conservative opinions which are outdated and problematic. For those of us yearning to see ourselves be claimed by our country of birth, it is futile to say the least because after watching House of Cards, Humsafar feels a tad bit tone deaf in a world where the perspectives of Muslims are pigeonholed to a beard & hijab.
There’s no patience for self-expression even in countries that claim to be majoritarily Muslim. In that case we can’t really blame the UN for not even batting an eye when Priyanka Chopra expressed her hawkish brand of patriotism, can we? As I watched a progressive celebrity in her own right Ayesha Malik defend our honour I realized how her words were wasted on a country which would’ve heckled her to death for wearing an off shoulder in its streets. That’s the irony of our support; it wavers because the world is as fickle about us, as we are about ourselves. Even more unfortunate was our best bet against PCJ. An item song peddling, queen of pretentious woke-dome who had to travel to Oslo to make a speech about how much she cares about schools in Sukkur, women’s hockey and Kashmir as long as there’s a pre-planned photo-op happening nearby to capture it. This just in, she’s been nominated for the most expensive celebrity publicity stunt of 2019 (female).
Every single recently released mainstream Pakistani film pandered to mass mentality & not one film owned up to the Muslim diaspora. It took Zoya Akhtar an Indian Muslim to paint a protagonist with realistic colours and show him bowing down on a prayer mat in Gully Boy. Not one movie from here cares about representation or takes privilege in diversifying the identity of Pakistani Muslim’s. I’m glad Zoya’s parents who are prolific Muslim artists in their own right, stayed where they knew their talents would be appreciated, so that their daughter could make cinematic history.
Meanwhile, our television makes us conflate prosperity with our skin color and it shows that we’re still hung up on our colonial past. We import Turkish and Chinese dramas distorting our children’s mindsets and essentially their future because we don’t want to risk being unsellable to the common man’s impaired taste. As hard as it is to believe, not every white person is ‘just’ beautiful, just as every dark skinned human isn’t poor! But we dare not challenge world views. – (Only for as long as they sell of course) and as soon as India starts doing it – we’ll do it too. The remake obviously, originality & social consciousness just isn’t our thing. Our neighbours are universalizing themselves so the world can relate & we aren’t – that’s the problem. This is also another reason why we lose clout regarding Kashmir because our media rhetoric is so blatantly profit ridden, it becomes hard for the world to register any genuine concern for the Kashmiri people’s future.
Honestly there’s no problem in beginning from scratch, by copying the west – verbatim. Legitimate improvements take time and we don’t have any. Translating dialogues, using green screens to superimpose the Pakistani equivalents of western actors (Not Humayan Saeed) sounds doable. We need to break away from brazenly sexist and tone deaf content by prioritizing quality. Linear narratives and editing styles are also a thing of the past. Millennials need movies that mimic their social media habits – fast paced, unpredictable and ones’ with uncertain endings (not everyone needs to be in love, or married, or terrible if they’re sexually active). That’s the way, the only way we’ll be able to hitch a ride on this new trend of digitally sponsored content showcased online.
Genuine feedback & organic sharing will determine what works by showing us how real praise is rewarded. People celebrate authenticity and companies modelled on the principles of true intent succeed. Companies like Prime video that have commissioned cinema in Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and several other smaller pockets of Indian states because it has proven it sells both locally & internationally. There’s a shared human experience that comes from contextual flavour in dialogues & authentic regional story telling.
Pakistan is thrice the size of several Indian states who have secured foreign production contracts; it’s deplorable that there’s less surety of success here than there. TV’s and smart screens are the only literacy we have in an age where books are outdated, we need to take the responsibility of educating our own – with mindful unsanitized content. Content that can expunge Pakistan’s reputation as the infamous ‘Pornistan’ (statistics by Google and PornMD confirm Pakistan as the number 1 country searching porn related Google queries). Sounds reasonable to take stock of what skills Pakistani’s boast about being number one at and giving our youth more insightful things to watch. It is in moments like this when we need to ‘act’ and do the ‘necessary’ thing of creating better content!